GREEN BAY, Wis. – Green Bay Packers training camp starts Tuesday with the arrival of the veteran players. When the team hits the practice field for the first time on Wednesday, it will be the first step toward determining a winner in these 11 roster battles.
Cornerback: King vs. Stokes – The Packers re-signed Kevin King to a modest one-year deal. The top pick in 2017, he’s been healthy only once in four seasons. That was 2019, and King delivered an impactful season with five interceptions and 15 passes defensed. The team took out some insurance by using its first-round pick on Eric Stokes. As is the case with King, Stokes checks all the boxes physically. He had an excellent final season at Georgia but his grabby style might not fly in the NFL. Scouts’ opinions were split but he made one tremendous play during the offseason.
Inside Linebacker: Barnes vs. Martin vs. Campbell – The Packers leaned heavily on the rookie tandem of Krys Barnes and Kamal Martin last season. An undrafted free agent, Barnes emerged as the every-down linebacker and piled up tackles at prolific rate. A fifth-round pick, Martin brings a physical presence. They’ll be challenged by veteran addition De’Vondre Campbell, a 70-game starter in five NFL seasons. His ability to play coverage could make the Packers less reliant on six-defensive-back packages. That, in turn, would help the run defense.
Outside Linebacker: Smith vs. Gary – Regardless of who wins the starting job, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are going to get ample playing time. The Packers frequently went with Za’Darius Smith, Preston Smith and Rashan Gary on the field together last year, anyway. But these are two hungry players. For Preston Smith, he’s coming off a poor season and had to swallow an incentive-laden restructure. If he matches his 2019 total of 12 sacks, he’ll pocket an additional $3.2 million. Gary, however, needs to play. He was their best outside linebacker last season. Unlike the Smith Bros., playing run defense doesn’t seem like an unwanted chore for Bane Gary.
Guard: Patrick vs. Everybody – Lucas Patrick is coming off a quality season as a first-time starter. If the Packers were awash in cap space, this battle might not even be on the radar. But the Packers have invested heavily on the offensive line the past two drafts. If someone from the group of rookies Royce Newman and Cole Van Lanen, second-year players Jon Runyan and Simon Stepaniak, or even journeyman Ben Braden show they can provide comparable play at a fraction of the price, the Packers could go with a cheaper option.
Receiver: Return of Funchess – Last offseason, the Packers signed receiver Devin Funchess to a one-year deal after he missed all but the 2019 opener with a broken collarbone. Funchess opted out of the 2020 season, meaning he’s played 36 snaps the past two years. Funchess has always had great potential but has rarely been a great player. If he can shake off all that rust, he could survive the roster battle that will include returning players Equanimeous St. Brown and Malik Taylor. “He’s a great dude, competitor, got high expectations for himself,” receiver Davante Adams said. ”
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Special Teams: Scott, Bradley on Bubble – In 2018, the Packers used a fifth-round pick on punter JK Scott and a seventh-round pick on long snapper Hunter Bradley. They were supposed to join kicker Mason Crosby as centerpieces to turn around Green Bay’s lackluster special teams. Instead, they’ve been part of the problem. Scott, who has ranked near the bottom of the league in net average each of his last three seasons, will battle Ryan Winslow. Bradley will battle Joe Fortunato, who hasn’t snapped in a game since 2015.
Top Draft Picks: Last Call for Jackson, Burks, Sternberger? – The Packers used a second-round pick on cornerback Josh Jackson in 2018, a third-round pick on linebacker Oren Burks in 2018 and a third-round pick on tight end Jace Sternberger in 2019. None of those players have come even close to matching those expectations. In fact, in the 2020 playoffs, they played a not-so-grand total of zero snaps from scrimmage. Jackson and Sternberger weren’t even active for those games while Burks toiled on special teams. At some point, it’s time to admit defeat. Will that happen this year? Sternberger is an interesting case. His first two seasons have been derailed by concussions. The first three players on the tight ends depth chart, Robert Tonyan, Marcedes Lewis and Josiah Deguara, have clearly defined roles. Sternberger, who will start the season with a two-game suspension, might have to beat out Dominique Dafney for playing time.
Offensive line: 16-Man Battle Royale – The Packers have 16 offensive linemen on the roster. That includes six draft picks the last two years – Runyan, Stepaniak and center Jake Hanson in 2020 and center Josh Myers, Newman and Van Lanen in 2021. You can never have enough depth on the offensive line, so the competition is a positive. At the same time, it would be a positive development if someone emerged to supplement starters David Bakhtiari and Billy Turner at tackle. With Bakhtiari down with a torn ACL and Rick Wagner’s body broken down by season’s end, the Buccaneers beat Green Bay’s tackles for five sacks in the NFC Championship Game. Maybe the Packers should have moved left guard Elgton Jenkins to tackle but that’s old news now.
Safety: Redmond vs. Scott – With injury-plagued Raven Greene not re-signed, there is a hole in the secondary as the No. 3 safety/No. 6 defensive back. When Greene was injured, that role was handled mostly by Will Redmond. Redmond’s versatility is a plus and he is a key member of the special teams, but there are too many holes in his game. Vernon Scott, a seventh-round pick last year, flashed in limited chances as a rookie. If he can cover, he could win a key role.
Running Back: Who’s No. 3? – The top of the depth chart is as clear as day, with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon expected to get the lion’s share of the playing time and touches. But what happens if someone goes down at an incredibly violent position? Jones has played all 16 games just once in his career. Dillon’s only been a focal point of the offense in just one professional game. Rookie Kylin Hill, Patrick Taylor and Dexter Williams round out the depth chart. Hill, an excellent all-around back at Mississippi State, would seem to be the front-runner but he’s got to show it. ”
Quarterback: Waiting for Rodgers – According to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, Aaron Rodgers is expected to return to the team, an absolutely critical development to the team’s championship hopes. If that’s true, Rodgers will be the starter and Jordan Love will move into the No. 2 role. There are three other quarterbacks on the roster with veteran Blake Bortles and unproven Kurt Benkert and Jake Dolegala. Based on resume, Bortles would be a huge favorite but the Packers might want a developmental prospect, instead.